Alan a Dale
Marian Fitzwater Interviews
The greenwood holds a mysterious charm - a thousand sweet smelling odours, vivid foliage, purple heather, much-tinted bracken, old trees clad in lichen and moss faded to the colour of old bronze. And the ancient oaks that the Druids believed were sacred all provide a delightful feeling of peace and repose.
To ramble through the forest glade and see the wild hyacinth with its myriad blooms, to feel the gentle breeze playing among the light tendrils of the birch tree, to hear the cry of a cuckoo or the tap of a woodpecker, conjures up your fancy. You can almost hear the sound of a horn, the twang of a bow and imagine red deer and fleeting figures in Lincoln green bounding through the forest.
It is here, set amongst these forest pleasures deep into the greenwood under an enormous hollowed oak tree known as Robin Hood's Larder or the Major Oak (pictured right), that an agreeable young gallant reposes with a harp slung across his back. He is a minstrel. Is this minstrel also an outlaw? It is difficult to tell for he is gracious and shows every courtesy. His lightness of manner, his shock of dark wavy hair and a large feather in his cap give him a jaunty air but his misty eyes hold a dreamy look.
We exchange greetings and pleasantries under the oak tree and he begins to tell me a story - a sad one it seems: this young fellow was in love with a fair young maid who was also truly in love with him. Unfortunately, she was taken from him and given to a knight who was old and ugly. On the day before the lady and the knight were due to be married, the fellow was gloomily wandering through the forest and just happened upon Little John, Much the miller's son and Robin Hood.
Sitting with his back against the oak tree, the minstrel brings his harp down to his knee and starts to sing, allowing his long fingers to pluck at the strings to bring forth a mellow sound. His voice is light and in perfect pitch as he sings the Ballad of Alan a Dale
At the end of his ballad the minstrel lowers his harp and intrigued, I ask him: 'The ballad is about you, isn't it?'
'Yes,' he answers with a slow smile.
'Do you live with your wife in the forest?' I ask him.
'We live in a cottage near the lodge.'
'Robin Hood's lodge.'
'Where is that?'
'Deep in the greenwood. It is not easy to find. Robin and his men built the lodge from tree trunks cut in two with the bark left on so that it fades into the surroundings. It is L-shaped with a staircase either end leading up to an upper storey that has a gallery running around it.'
'It has two stories?' I query with wonder.
'Oh yes. In front, under the shelter of the gallery, it has a long trestle dining table and many, many guests have been welcomed at Robin's dinner table - some willing, some not so. The lodge is surrounded by a ditch with a drawbridge and scattered through the glades are many tents of hides where his merry men abide. He lives as a prince of outlaws.'
With more than the hint of a smile, Alan looks askance at me: 'His longbow is his sceptre, his council tree his palace, the greenwood his domain, and the Sheriff and abbots are his tax collectors.'
'But he is a thief,' I point out.
'Yes, but a courteous one, and only to help the luckless and the poor.'
'I know that he does have a spirit of freedom and independence and he does help the poor, but what is Robin really like?'
'He is such a master of disguise that it is very difficult to know him truly. The cut of his cloth is no better than any of his men and though younger than most of them he cannot be mistaken for anyone else but their leader.'
'He was extremely well-mannered when we met. Is he courteous to all ladies?'
'I have never known him not to doff his cap and bow to a lady and have always found him tender and thoughtful with my wife. Some say he is a rough and ready fellow who likes a bout at quarterstaff with a tinker or a tanner but he is a warm-hearted fellow who just likes to take a shot at a stag now and again.' Alan pauses thoughtfully and adds: 'Mind, against luxurious bishops and tyrannical sheriffs his bow is ever bent and his arrow ready in the string. When he hears of the approach of some purse-proud bishop or foolish sheriff, his eye brightens and his words grow poetical. He has fooled the Sheriff many times.'
'The Sheriff is offering a reward to anyone who brings him Robin Hood.'
'Any reward will be hard-earned. There is no one to equal Robin's skill with a bow and the woods are so thick that no one dare come into them unless in courtesy. No matter how many seek him, they will be sent home packing with a little mirth and jollity - and of course, lighter in purse.'
Alan stands up, returning his harp to his back: 'Of course, as a lady and a good friend of Robin you will be treated with the utmost courtesy and respect.'
'Robin has invited you to dinner.'
'Oh no! I couldn't!' I exclaim, but then something more than curiosity comes over me and I am gripped by an excitement and a fascination. I think, why not? It would be most ungracious of me to refuse such a gallant invitation and I am persuaded: 'Lead on, Alan a Dale, to the outlaw's table!'
Alan leads me along a little worn path through bushes of hazel, dogberry and traveller's joy, on a path so faint and narrow that I believe no human has passed before, only hares, or perhaps slim red deer. There is no sign of the King's Foresters here, who supposedly keep watch and ward over the King's deer.
Suddenly the path opens into a wide glade with bushes of hazel and holly here and there and I see a man casually leaning against a lone, giant oak tree. His head is covered with brown curls and a velvet cap in which is stuck a feather from the wing of a plover. He is dressed all in Lincoln green with a bow in his hand and I recognise the smiling, bronzed face of Robin Hood. The outlaw greets me cordially: 'Welcome, dear lady, welcome to the greenwood!'
|Tales of Robin Hood